Gaming Nomad’s Naughty And Nice List Of Video Game Cartoons
If you were a gamer growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s, you probably remember Christmas as being the time you’d get new games, play with new toys and watch cartoons in the morning because you were off from school. Of course, during that time video games were the hottest thing to market and merchandise to all the kids, especially during the holidays. Nintendo was at the head of the pack with tons of toys, magazines, trading cards, cereal, and other random crap licensed by Nintendo and other game companies for all the kids to bug their parents to buy, all in addition to the consoles and games themselves.
To drum up even more hype for popular game franchises, the Saturday mornings and after school hours would become flooded with cartoons based on various popular video games of the time. Some of these were actually really good. Many of them were embarrassingly stupid.
So for nostalgic and holiday fun, I thought I’d paint up a short list of some of the best and worse cartoons based off video games to see which cartoons deserve the best presents and which ones deserve a big lump of coal. I’m going to limited it to three in each category, and had to have aired on US television in the 80’s or 90’s. These are primarily shows I watched or were aware of as a kid so if you know of any I may have missed or were simply not aware of; let me know in the comments. With that, let’s go ahead and get the worst out of the way.
First the Naughty list:
3. Super Mario Super Show
Of course, Mario would get his own show. Though honestly, Mario is a difficult thing to make into… any form of media outside of video games and expect it to make sense. Mario feels like one big drug trip and these cartoons are a really bad trip. The show ran from 1989 till 1991 and originally included some live-action segments featured Mario, played by WWE Hall of Famer Lou Albano, and Luigi, played by Danny Wells. These segments were generally unfunny and just weird which pretty much sums up the whole show.
The actually animated episodes feature Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach (then just known as Toadstool), and, the ever so annoying fungus head, Toad as they deal with the evil schemes of King Koopa.
Yeah, not much to work with plot wise which is the main problem many video game based cartoons ran into.
In addition to usually having the rescue the Princess, Mario and Luigi venture to stupidly name worlds like ‘Spy World’ and ‘Car World’. I understand it’s trying to have locations like in the Mario games but really? Spy World? That’s just dumb and makes no sense.
In addition to the bizarre story lines and settings, the humor we are treated to are pasta jokes because, you know, the Mario Bros. are Italian and comparing everything to spaghetti and meatballs is funny? Being part Italian, I suppose I should be offended. Along with the bizarre and often lazy animation is some middle of the road voice acting. While it was on par with most cartoons at the time, the voice that stands out most was Toad because his voice was like a cat in a blender. I will give the show some credit as it did actually use some sound effects and music directly from the games which was a nice touch. Later there were spin-off shows based on Mario 3 and Super Mario World. Sadly, adding Yoshi to the cast only added to the list of characters with annoying voices.
There was also the Zelda cartoon that was attached to the original seasons of the Mario Super Show. Every Friday, they would show the Legend of Zelda cartoon which did better justice to its source material more than Mario did… but not by much. It’s a far cry from the majestic and serious tone that the Zelda series has grown into over the past couple decades.
The most I remember about it is Link and Zelda bickering a lot which usually led to Link’s catch phrase ‘Well, excuuuuuuse me, Princess!’ being said at least once an episode. I think I know why Link never talks in the games. Anyway, the Mario cartoon, while not a complete insult to the source material, was an insult to most of our brains and doesn’t exactly hold up as something most would watch today and have found memories off. However, it was most definitely better than the live action Super Mario Bros. movie…
2. Captain N: The Game Master
At the height of Nintendo’s popularity, a show was made that threw several characters from their most popular games into one show. Sounds awesome right?! Well, not so much. The show starred this kid named Kevin Keene who is zapped into his TV into a world known as Videoland where all the characters from his favorite Nintendo licensed games live.
Kevin finds himself helping Princess Lana from the game ‘wemadeherupbecauseweneededanon-copyrightedfemalecharacter.’ With an all start cast with characters from other video games; they try to stop a group video game villains from doing evil things! …Or something. The super video game team consists of Simon Belmont from Castlevania who acts nothing like a legendary vampire hunter would, Megaman who is very small, green, and talks like Popeye, Kid Icarus who adds the suffix ‘icus’ to everything he says, and Game Boy who is just a talking Game Boy but is nowhere near as awesome as BMO. Some of the villains include Mother Brain from Metroid, King Hippo from Punch-Out, and Eggplant Wizard from Kid Icarus along with many other villains and characters that make cameos.
The biggest issue with this show is that none of the game characters look or even act like in the games they come from. It’s a huge slap in the face to Megaman and Castlevania fans. The stories are even more bizarre and mindless as the Mario cartoon. Probably the most well known episode is the crossover with the Zelda cartoon when Link and Princess Zelda come over for a quest or something. Filled with plot holes and lack of logic like why doesn’t Kevin use his magical controller that can control reality in Videoland to easily beat the villains?
The terrible animation at times and annoying voice acting really make this a nostalgic cartoon that should only be remembered to avoid repeating history.
1. Darkstalkers (USA)
There were several cartoons based on popular fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat which were hilariously bad in their own right. But in 1995 came a cartoon that went above and beyond to be absolutely horrible, unfunny, and insulting to the game it was based on and our intelligence. Darkstalkers is one of the most unique fighting games (characters and setting wise) to come out of Capcom. So a kids cartoon based on this dark and rather adult game was a fine idea!
Let’s turn it into a stupid comedy and butcher all the characters that fans love in appearance and personality! As you can guess, the results are horrific.
They went out of their way to make these awesome, artistically creative characters into lame, poorly animated, and over the top jokes.
Morrigan Aensland for example, the most well known Darkstalker and considered one of the sexiest video game characters ever, is made to look rather plan (which I understand toning down her ‘assets’ for a kids show) with drab colored hair and suit.
Her personality is very different as she is made to be one of the main villains of the show. In the game she holds a neutral moral stance but generally leans towards good. Along with Demirtri Maximov, Morrigan is given a hokey Romanian accent to sound like Dracula. They also throw in a kid similar to Captain N who becomes friends with some of the Darkstalkers and goes on adventures with them. With lots of over the top voice acting, lame 90’s jokes, and stupid stories, it’s no wonder Darkstalkers didn’t make it past 13 episodes.
Actually, I wonder how it got green lighted for that many episodes at all. While this was a disaster, there was hope in 1997. A Darkstalkers anime OVA was released in Japan and was a million times better than the animated crap heap we got in the USA. It had gorgeous animation and stayed true to the games it was based on. It even had good English voice acting and dubbing for the time when it was released in the US. I would include it on the next list but it never saw a US TV run. This is was because A) It was definitely not for the kids with violence and fan service and B) it was only 4 episodes, 45 mins each.
It was short, a little confusing as it had multiple story lines going at once, and several of the characters are only shown during the opening. It also featured the story of Darkstalkers 2, so no Jedah or BB Hood or other characters introduced in the third game. I’d love to see another anime series of Darkstalkers made with all the characters. Actually, I’d love to see Darkstalkers 4 made. COME ON, CAPCOM! YOU KNOW WE WANT IT!
Ugh now that we got that out of the way, let’s look at what I think are some of the best cartoons based on video games to grace our Saturday morning childhoods.
And now the Nice list:
Okay, this one is kind of cheating since Pokémon came about in the late 90’s, is an anime, and is actually still running to this day. It is Nintendo’s tool to drum up hype for whatever their newest Pokémon game is. But I’m mainly focused on the very first 30 or 40 episodes of the original series and when it first hit the US. Using the same marketing they used in the late 80’s and early 90’s with the Mario and Zelda cartoons, they pushed Pokémon with an animated series but actually keeping true to the game.
The show made good use of the characters and Pokémon from the game, colorful and vibrate animation, great renditions of music from the game, and that kickass theme song that everyone who watched the show knows the words to this day. Now I’m not going to say every episode was pure gold. There were plenty of dumb filler episodes but the first two episodes, gym leader battles, and the episode where Ash lets Pikachu go (even though he comes right back) will always be filled with nostalgic feels.
Pokémon was also an important show in the US as it led to anime becoming far more main stream in America.
Not long after Pokémon made it big, there were anime series popping up all over American television. When the first Pokémon movie was released in the US it was a huge deal. While it was panned by critics and parents, the fans loved it. Personally, I liked it but did lose interest in Pokémon not long after seeing it. It was probably because I was looking for something more grown up but maybe that’s for another article…
The Pokémon anime is still going though nowhere near as good as it used to be. I did catch an episode of the Pokémon Black and White series about a year ago and, yeah, it was pretty bad. There was a mini-series called Pokémon Origins that was released in Japan a couple months ago. I hear very good things about it and fans have said ‘it is how Pokémon was meant to be.’ I also hear the current iteration of the Pokémon anime series is currently based on X and Y and is supposed to be much better from previous seasons. It is certain that as long as Nintendo keeps making the games, the Pokémon anime will keep living on.
2. Sonic the Hedgehog (aka Sonic SatAM)
Back when Nintendo and Sega were in tight competition with each other, Sega did something Nintendo could not: gave a competent and well made animated series to their mascot. Sonic gets it right by giving an interesting story, setting, and characters to something that doesn’t have much plot to begin with. The iconic blue hedgehog leads a rag tag band of anamorphic animals to try and bring down the evil Doctor Robotnik who has taken over the world with his machines.
I like that instead of always trying to take over the world; Robotnik already has which gives the cartoon a pretty dark tone right out of the gate. Robotnik himself is actually really badass in this show (in stark contrast to how he looks in the games) and is perfectly voiced by the King of 90’s voice acting, Jim Cummings. In addition to Sonic and Tails, there is a cast of interesting furry characters to help Sonic on his crusade to end Robotnik’s regime. Most well remembered are Princess Sally (who is Sonic’s love interest) and Bunnie Rabbot, a part cyborg rabbit with a southern accent. Both characters still have a large fan following to this day.
While it wasn’t popular with the critics, the show still has a cult following from fans to this day.
The only major issue with this show is that it ended on a cliff hanger and the show was cancelled after season 2 wrapped up. Don’t you hate it when that happens? But Gaming Nomad! What about that OTHER Sonic show? Oh yes… that OTHER Sonic show. At the same time, there was a different Sonic the Hedgehog show called ‘The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog’ and it was the polar opposite of Sonic the Hedgehog in every way. But maybe someone else can cover that show instead…
1. Earthworm Jim
There was a brief time in the mid-90’s when Earthworm Jim was one of the most popular games out there and creators Doug TenNapel and David Perry had big plans for him. Along with the awesome video games were action figures, comic books, and the animated series as part of Kids WB, part of the new WB Network. The EWJ cartoon had three great things going for it: good writing, accurate to the video game it was based on, and great voice actors.
The writing was surprisingly clever and funny. It was self aware and had humor for both kids and adults. The show is often more of a parody of super heroes and 90’s action cartoons in general. Jim’s ‘EAT DIRT’ battle cry followed by a vague description of what he is shooting at and maniacal laughter is always amusing to watch. The characters are often well written and all the major characters see at least one episode that focuses and develops them. Though it never gets too deep as (this is an action/comedy after all) but you do get a good grasp of all the major characters that come from the game and see them expanded upon greatly. Earthworm Jim has one of the best Rogues Gallery out there, one that is even comparable to Batman. Yes, you heard me. Jim and his villains play off each other wonderfully. EWJ also has one of the most underrated Princesses in video games or in general media.
They give Princess What’s-Her-Name a good back story and make her strong character. Yeah, Jim has to save her from time to time but she as hell puts up a fight before getting captured. Much more than what most damsels in distress do. The characters mostly appear as they did in the video game and often actually look better. Peter Puppy is an example of a character that was changed as he now wears clothes, is a different color, and talks but this all worked to give him character and be Jim’s faithful side kick. Some of the new character designs were used in future games like Psy-Crow’s sleeveless look.
The only changed that bugged me was the removal of Major Mucus even though you do see him during one of the commercials for the show.
Maybe he was too gross. I don’t know. Also, the show is a lot brighter looking than the game which had a darker look to it but it did keep the zany humor. It helped a lot that the game’s creator had a big hand in making the show. The show had a great cast of experienced voice actors who handle their characters wonderfully. Dan Castellaneta (aka the voice of Homer Simpson) was born to play the role of Jim and portrays him well as the good hearted hero who isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. He got a lot of practice playing Homer Simpson. Jim Cummings continued his long line of work in the 90’s voicing two of the show’s best villains as Psy-Crow and Bob the Killer Goldfish. Charlie Adler and Edward Hibbert were perfect as Prof. Monkey-For-A-Head and Evil the Cat. Andrea Martin and Kath Coucie did great as the evil Queen and Princess What’s-Her-Name.
So what happened? Sadly, the show only lasted two seasons and it was around the end of the second season that the fate of Earthworm Jim in gaming was becoming unclear. 3D games were the way of the future and many gaming mascots of the 90’s would fail to adapt including EWJ. The long delayed Earthworm Jim 3D in 1999 would be Jim’s last console game and it was a disaster. This was partly because Doug TenNapel would lose the rights and creative control of the project and his beloved character during this time. He still views selling the rights to Earthworm Jim as one of his biggest mistakes. The cartoon faded into obscurity and it didn’t help that many fans didn’t even know about the show when it aired. The series is finally available on DVD but it took a long time for it to come to be and is only available in the US via Amazon. There was rumor of a big Earthworm Jim reboot in 2008 with a new game, tv series, and even a movie. Sadly, this turned out to be untrue. Of all the stuff getting reboots these days; Earthworm Jim is badly in need of one.
Wow, that was longer than I thought it would be. Thank you for reading and Happy Holidays! If you know of any really bad or really good video game based cartoons that I didn’t mention, feel free to let me know in the comments. Now brace yourselves because my Top 5 Games of the Year picks are coming at the end of this month and it is going to be quite the event. Get ready!